Climate Change Killed Pond Hockey
On Long Island in the early 1950s, skating and hockey took place on ponds. There were two kinds. The first was local and small, where a few families might gather on a weekend afternoon. Then there was Beaver Dam, the Yankee Stadium of ponds. Or so it seemed to a four-year old.
It was about 10 miles away from where I lived, and it drained into Long Island sound. A causeway kept the sea water from flowing in the other direction, which would have ended the possibility of the pond ever freezing. If there was a dam and if it was built by beavers, I never saw it or them.
There was sort of a parking area and a warming hut with pier barely above water level that provided access to the ice. Sometimes a ramp was extended outward if the ice near the shore wasn’t thick enough. That was pretty much it. Well, other than hotdogs, hot chocolate and a great big fireplace.
Beaver Dam was presided over by a man who wore the kind of hat favored by railway conductors or Charles de Gaulle. He had a military title like Colonel or Captain. He seemed to be the sort of person best not to mess with, especially if you were four.
There were chairs on blades that could be used for support by wobbly skaters or, presumably by older boys, for courting their non-skating girlfriends. Today, there would be no such thing. Here I am speculating, because four-year olds are not well versed in such matters.
The pond seemed about the size of Lake Superior and you could unzip your jacket and use it like a sail to go all the way to the other end. That led to an important life lesson: he who skates with the wind is then required to skate back against it.
The smallest children did not play hockey, but they probably began when they were about seven or eight. 1953 or 1954, in my case. The hockey was not organized, and it could involve whatever number of players were there. The teams were all ages and divided randomly into lights and darks, based on the color of their jerseys.
The tweed jacket, in which my father played, was thought to be dark. He often wore his shin guards outside of his gray flannel trousers. Helmets were unheard of.
Nor were there boards like we have today or goals either, as these would have floated away or sunk when the ice melted, as inevitably it did.
Over a few years in the 1950s, the pond stopped freezing and there were fewer and fewer days of skating to justify the $15 annual membership dues. This development would lead in a new direction.
It would also prove to be my first exposure to the concept of climate change, which would not become “a thing” for many decades to come.
Notwithstanding wearing his shin guards outside of his gray flannel trousers or treating a tweed jacket as a hockey jersey – or perhaps for the very reason that he did – my father was the President of the Beaver Dam Winter Sports Club. It fell to him to solve the lack of ice problem.
He and some other stalwarts built an “artificial” rink across the pond on a narrow sliver of land between a railway track and the water. The idea was to have what would today be called a skating rink (because they are all “artificial”) with nearby access to the natural pond ice when it was cold enough.
Had the idea been hatched today, there is precisely zero possibility it would ever have been built because the permits needed to drive across the tracks and to build adjacent to wetlands would have been tied up in unending litigation.
By the time the rink was finished, and a children’s team was organized, I had been packed off to a Swiss boarding school as part of a divorce agreement. I would not play a game for Beaver Dam until after college.
The person who is now my wife wanted to play on that children’s team, but she was not allowed to because she was — and still is (important to clear that up these days) — a girl.
Beaver Dam had a grown-up team in something called the Commuter League because all of the teams were in New York City suburbs. Years later, I provided a welcome breather for the aging stars by filling a spot on the third line. My father still played in his gray flannels, but the shin guards were generally underneath. The tweed jacket was replaced by a hockey jersey but still no helmet. The jersey hangs in a glass shadow box frame above the door of a room named in his honor.
There was an annual event called the Junior Senior Game. The players were divided into two teams: those in college or younger versus those out of college and older. No woman would ever have come up with such an idea nor would anyone with the slightest understanding of human nature let alone anyone who had ever read Oedipus.
The older players were in decline and the younger ones were still in their high testosterone years. The game was always a disaster characterized by hard feelings on all sides both before and after. The eye rolling injuries sustained by wives and mothers tended to recover in due time.
Beaver Dam Winter Sports Club still exists. There are grown up hockey groups and countless children’s teams.
For some reason, the grown-ups are divided into three levels: B, C and C+. I suppose there was once an A level but, as the best players got older, they moved down and the Bs just became older As. The C+s are called that because nobody wants to be Ds.
My older brother is the heart and soul of the C+s and my daughter, avenging the spurning of her mother six decades earlier, is a C. A highlight of my hockey year is an occasional guest appearance with the C+s, most of whom are far better and younger than me.
For a brief interval each winter the grownups of whatever level reorganize themselves for the Olympics. There is a draft in which the players are assigned to teams named for hockey powers like Scotland, Mexico and Iceland.
There are three small children learning to skate and play hockey thanks in part to a man who surely never heard the words climate change, but who responded to it, nonetheless.
John Austin Murphy, February 15, 2020 at 6:33 am said:
Sadly true. I ponder often the importance in my life of the long winter sessions spent on the ponds and rivers of Edgewood.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 8:00 am said:
If you are like me, it was pretty important.
Gordon M Strauss, February 22, 2020 at 11:17 pm said:
It was the same in Cincinnati, year for year, just the same.
I hope you’re well,
Haven Pell, February 22, 2020 at 11:39 pm said:
Wow, great to hear from you. It has been eons.
Tom Hovey, February 15, 2020 at 7:01 am said:
My first read of the morning. You have sparked memories of long ago. Before artificial ice I remember walking from our house on Factory Pond Rd. In my brown corduroy pants, skates on my hockey stick and skating on my weak spindly ankles. My older brother Bee would take off embarrassed to be seen with me. I never remember being anything but a c+ skater even when I went away to Brooks where I was regulated to ice maintenance.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 8:03 am said:
skates hanging from sticks carried over shoulders is a wonderful image
Garrard Glenn, February 15, 2020 at 7:03 am said:
I remember playing hockey at Beaver Dam just once. My mother arrived to pick me up and found me engaged in
a horrendous argument with Lindsay Schiefflin who was in my class at Eastwoods school. I seem to recall the argument had to do with the captaincy of one of the hockey teams. My mother wisely suggested it was time to discontinue the argument, and to go home. All was quickly forgotten, and Lindsay remained a friend.
Beaver Dam was most impressive. It had a…rink!
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 8:01 am said:
Eventually the Winter Club also had a rink and East Woods played there
Dick Sonderegger, February 15, 2020 at 7:09 am said:
Haven– 5 above zero in northern Connecticut this morning. The 60-acre lake outside my window was all open water yesterday and is covered with a light skin of ice this morning. High temperature today is only forecast to be 28, so this could be the start of something good, but the highs for tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday are forecast to be in the high 40s, with Tuesday ending in several hours of light rain. When we moved here, 19 years ago, there was four to six weeks of skatable ice each winter. That has steadily declined over the years. This is the first winter there has been no skatable ice at all. Sigh…
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 7:53 am said:
and you are in Northern Connecticut. The line of frozen ponds is moving northward.
Dick Sonderegger, February 15, 2020 at 9:35 am said:
Ahhh… Don’t you mean “The line of unfrozen (or formerly frozen) ponds is moving northward.”?
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:02 pm said:
the ones you can’t skate on
Stephen Smith, February 15, 2020 at 7:29 am said:
The world would be a better place if hockey-playing gents still wore tweed jackets and strapped their shin guards over their gray flannels.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 7:52 am said:
Some would make the same argument about not wearing helmets. Though they might not be wrong, I am not holding my breath.
Harold, February 15, 2020 at 7:48 am said:
Growing up in DC we would skate on the locks of the C&O canal complete with bonfire on the ice. I recall we were on locks 8&9 which included a huge lake with rock face cliffs rising out of the lake on the uphill side of the canal. Been decades since there was ice in DC. This was the 60s through ‘72
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 7:51 am said:
Every now and again the canal freezes and I scurry down there to be sure I don’t miss what might be my last chance.
Oakley Brooks, February 15, 2020 at 8:32 am said:
We gathered six skaters and a goalie from our team at Groton in December 1961 and visited Beaver Dam for a couple of games against locals. Great time on the ice and very welcoming housing and goings on.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:10 pm said:
the game would be better with fewer players.
6 and a goal guard might be stretching it though
Jake, February 15, 2020 at 8:35 am said:
This is a great post – as all of yours are. I love this line “There are three small children learning to skate and play hockey thanks in part to a man who surely never heard the words climate change, but who responded to it, nonetheless.” And what a lasting legacy that is – that sports club and icerink. —– My experience with this is: As kids growing up in TUX we skated reliably every year, on “Pond #3” aka “the little Wee-Wah” aka more importantly, “THE SKATING POND” every year for weeks on end. A local neighbor would drive his JEEP on the ice to clear the snow and create our “rink”. Oftentimes there were high snowbanks all around for soft landings when we checked each other. No helmets. We also used our coats as sails and then skated back upwind if there were fully open ice days all the way to the “other end” of the pond just shy of the dam. We skated on rough ice, heaving ice, snowy ice, glassy ice – perfect sometimes like a zamboni just ran over it. The ice would speak to us with POPS and CRACKS – the pops and cracks echoed off the mountains creating a pond hockey song with puck and stick slaps and shouts of joy and pain of children interspersed. Our goals for games typically were two firewood logs collected from the cabin just adjacent to the pond where the local neighbor always left the door open and let us make fires to warm up next to the cabin fireplace. The logs served great joy for goal scoring or severe pain when you landed on one with your knee. We skated until we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes in our warn out, dull bladed, real leather Bauers. In the past 20 years we haven’t dared go near the pond at all, mostly because it’s filled with ducks or Canada Geese enjoying open water and when not, small corners barely frozen for a day or 2, if ever at all.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:09 pm said:
great skating story. Thank you.
as a child I was taken to Gold Racquet weekend (my first would have been about 70 years ago today) and was admonished never to go near any ice in Tuxedo
Jake McCray, February 15, 2020 at 8:44 am said:
Haven – this is my favorite post yet.
“Eye rolling injuries”
Perhaps in 40 years, one will create a well-written blog, detailing their childhood years in video game tournaments.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:06 pm said:
‘twon’t be me! as to the video game blog
Sellers, February 15, 2020 at 9:00 am said:
I remember going through the ice in about 1960 in Brightwaters (South Shore of LI). Perhaps climate change came earlier down there so we needed a rink more than you did. I was wearing a brand new getup (NY Rangers!) my father had bought me in the forlorn hope I could compete with you North Shore guys, LOL.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:05 pm said:
lucky you were not wearing a tweed jacket, you might have drowned.
Jimmy Weekes, February 15, 2020 at 9:20 am said:
Ahh, the memories. You drew a perfect picture of your father. I still remember those shin guards, and how sharp his elbows were. Bradford and I once brought an old sheet to the pond, on a windy day. We got up to great speeds. The drawback was forward vision was severely impaired and we looked around once to find ourselves about ten feet from one of the little islands. A crash of epic proportions ensued. Thanks to blind luck, and the rubber bones of ten year olds, we weren’t injured.
As I remember, the commuter games could get a bit chippy. Both of our brothers loved that, especially against those vile Bedford Bears.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:04 pm said:
crashing into an island with a bedsheet sail. Oh my. another busy day for child protective services
Peter W Bragdon, February 15, 2020 at 10:12 am said:
Haven! Your essay on Beaver Dam and subsequent skating experiences triggers so many memories. Here in Exeter, NH, the Bragdon family ritual on Thanksgiving included hours of pick-up shinny at a location called “The Cove” — a shallow bay connected to the Exeter River — this area always froze before the main river. Now, the river does not freeze this early in the year, if at all. The drowning of an Exeter Academy teacher several decades ago has discouraged skating on this river — and the removal of the downtown dam has limited the extent of skating — the teacher was skating alone when he went through the ice. My family had two rules — you always skated with somebody else, and you had a hockey stick which was meant to facilitate your escape — it was believed that your partner could reach out to the stick and help pull you out.
Now, to switch from the early 50’s to 1976 and to Kent School where I was coaching a very talented men’s hockey team. I noticed that the team was feeling the pressure of being preceded by three straight Housatonic Valley League Championships and was tight. To loosen them up, I took the players across some snow-covered soccer fields to two natural ice ponds where the ice had to be at least 8″ thick — enough to support a Patton tank. There we played keep-away for about an hour. During that hour I discovered the following:
1. The majority of my team — mostly from Boston — had never skated on natural ice.
2. When they heard that “boing” sound triggered by ice cracking on a very cold day, they thought they might drown.
3. They had never experienced the phenomenon of a puck traveling forever on a black ice surface free of the containment of boards.
In spite of these reservations, the players had a lot of fun and loosened up in subsequent games.
What a contrast to those five rinks at St. Paul’s School, set up on black ice, where your club team thrived, Haven!
Mike Brooks, February 15, 2020 at 3:21 pm said:
Peter Bragdon’s story evokes memories of those dikes at Kent that were used for club hockey. They were in the shadow of Mt. Algo that made it the coldest part of the valley and the ice was cold and fast until the clubs began using it. We had two faculty members who would go out with a chain saw and cut around the rinks several times a year so the that ice surface would float up and prevent the “boing” sound that Peter mentions. Fortunately we had an artificial rink for the varsity and j.v. games and that rink– named for the famous Fryberger family — was also in the shadow of Mt. Algo and colder than any of the rinks we played on. Like St. Paul’s and their black ice this was a big advantage when we played freshman teams and those schools lucky enough to have an indoor rink (e.g. Taft). Playing outdoors was interesting but the ice surface was never as good as that of the indoor rinks and shoveling and flooding the rink (with hot water carts) really cut into our practice time.
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 9:57 pm said:
I never knew about cutting around whole rinks so they would float
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 10:01 pm said:
I like the “skate buddy” and “carry a stick” rules. Today they’d send child protective services after you.
Richard Meyer, February 15, 2020 at 3:04 pm said:
I’m entirely with Stephen Smith on this
Haven Pell, February 15, 2020 at 9:58 pm said:
Carter Lord, February 16, 2020 at 8:19 am said:
Great piece!!! Great writing. Funny. Way to go
Fyi minnesota twin cities has a HUGE hockey scene going on for everyone from 4 to 75. Its astounding how well organized and all over the place it is
Its the best sports involvement for everybody that i know of anywhere
I encourage you to keep the rinks open for all. Everyone chips in a few hundred a year and the rinks are open all the time.
The ponds are great but if they’re gone then refocus the area’s attention on the rinks. Unhappily we don’t have enough in Florida so it’s a rarity. Up there in the cold where you live it’s a worthwhile endeavor to have a hockey available for everybody of all ages. Lucky you
Haven Pell, February 16, 2020 at 9:58 am said:
Year round? I didn’t know that.
Jane F Simonds, February 16, 2020 at 6:18 pm said:
Our pond on IUWillets Rd in Westbury used to be the water pond for the firetrucks in the old days. We had many skaters over hockey. It was shaped sort of like a hot water bottle with cement walls. You could flick pucks of the walls. I was usually goal keep. Actually this prepared me for field hockey goal keeping in boarding school.
We also had some figure skaters. One incident that stands out was a lovely neighbor, dressed in her beige tights, little skirt, mink muff and hat with boyfriend on her arm glided off down the pond. Wow they looked so graceful, however, they sank at the other end. I still laugh today at the sight of this. One other incident served the guy right. He arrived in full hockey garb, I told him the ice was thin at the far end. Of course being the hot shit he was he swished off doing his little cross over to the end and too sank. Best laugh ever. Miss those days❗️
Thanks Haven for bringing back fond memories. HBD my twin❗️
Haven Pell, February 16, 2020 at 6:25 pm said:
Wow, thank you Jane. Those were some new ones to me. Seems to me I must have skated there since I grew up so nearby. Tied at 74 Wednesday. HBD
Mike Moore, February 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm said:
Grew up on Pleasant Pond which straddles the Hamilton/Wenham town line on North Shore of Boston. It was generally a frozen playground by about December 15th and remained that way through about March 1st. There was pond hockey and tip-ups to try and catch the chain pickerel and trout, which Massachusetts DNR stocked in the pond. Sometimes folks would drive on the pond. It was a huge part of my childhood. Forty years later, Pleasant Pond no longer freezes over.
Haven Pell, February 17, 2020 at 7:10 pm said:
The pond must have been frequented by students at the “Reeg.”Much opportunity for hyjinx and chicanery.
Matt Moran, February 18, 2020 at 6:11 pm said:
I moved from NYC to Glen Head in December 2003 with my wife and 2 little daughters, aged 4 & 2. I almost lost my mind that first winter in suburbia.
But thanks to great friends, I was able to join Beaver Dam. Simply stated, it made my next 15 winters special. I played in several pickup games on the pond.
Special thanks to your father and other founding/early year members
Haven Pell, February 18, 2020 at 8:01 pm said:
Thank you for the lovely comment, Matt. Glad you are enjoying it. My daughter and her three children are too. Beaver Dam is the gift that keeps on giving.
Hugh O’Kane, February 19, 2020 at 5:49 pm said:
Your father told me that Beaver Dam was his favorite club and he hoped
that no one would “ screw it up”……I think he would be happy with
it’s current state of affairs.
Haven Pell, February 19, 2020 at 7:04 pm said:
Thanks significantly to people like you.
Julian Koenig, May 23, 2022 at 9:16 am said:
23 may 22: How deep is Beaver Dam? When you break through the “black ice” at Beaver Dam – how deep till you touch bottom?
I know. And Lee Loomis watched me.
Haven Pell, May 23, 2022 at 12:31 pm said:
Sadly, I don’t know the answer to your question. Sorry